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A year later, Angels testing Einstein's definition of insanity

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- This cannot be the Big A train wreck it appears. Right? It must be a mirage.

The Angels cannot be repeating last year's start pratfall for bloody pratfall, mistake for brutal mistake, April showers of last spring followed by the April hurricane of this spring.

They really did finish April eight games behind the Texas Rangers at 9-17, the worst start in franchise history?

You sure this wasn't last April, when the Angels fell nine games behind the Rangers and proved that you absolutely can destroy your playoff hopes in the season's first four weeks?

Someone asked manager Mike Scioscia about looking for consistency, generously mentioning that whatever "great" games the Angels have played this year have been followed by lots of not-so-great moments.

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"Did I miss the great day?" Scioscia deadpanned. "Where was it?"

It was Albert Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Nobody has ever confused Angels owner Arte Moreno and general manager Jerry Dipoto with a genius like Einstein.

But did they really watch Albert Pujols throughout 2012 and decide that what the club needed far more than pitching for 2013 was ... another marquee slugger?

Again?

So while Josh Hamilton limps along at .214 with two homers and nine RBI through the first 27 games, the Angels' rotation ... is crawling along with a 5.21 ERA, 28th in the majors. Only the Blue Jays and Astros are worse.

Difference between last April and this is that this year's Angels have been wracked with injuries. Ace Jered Weaver, leadoff man Peter Bourjos, third baseman Alberto Callaspo and three key relievers all are on the disabled list. Four if you count Ryan Madson, who has yet to play for the Angels. And, setup man Scott Downs was down Thursday against the Orioles with a rib cage injury.

Anytime a team loses an ace, it's an immediate crisis.

But in opting to focus on Hamilton instead of Zack Greinke last winter, the Angels clearly decided they had plenty of pitching already in C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton, who annually is chained to a WHIP that is sadistic even to glimpse.

So clearly, with their club-record payroll of $153.5 million, this April must be different from last April.

This April, the daddy rich Angels must simply be spotting the other dregs in the AL West a bit of a head start just to make things interesting.

Sure, that blinking yellow caution light ahead is a reminder of how often Moreno has swung for the fences and come up empty. The Angels' 2002 World Series title, remember, arrived the year before Arte did. While he reaped the afterglow benefit, he had nothing to do with, you know, actually winning it all.

Hamilton on top of Pujols sure seemed like overkill at the time, but the great thing about these Angels is that if Weaver is the only starter here who can pitch, then just as soon as Hamilton stops swinging at every single pitch within range of your nearest air traffic controller's radar, the Angels will resume whomping rivals 10-9 every night.

Right?

Presently, it sure doesn't look good. Not that Hamilton is swinging at everything, but the Angels keep him around after games to roam the outfield, bat in hand, to keep birds from feasting on the stadium grass seed.

As April ended, those kidders over at the crack Web site FanGraphs posted an article entitled, "Josh Hamilton is swinging himself into oblivion." They noted that Hamilton had an AL-worst 45.2 percent swing rate on pitches outside of the strike zone. They also noted that his 60.4 percent swing rate at pitches seen was the highest rate in the AL.

What he looks like is Pujols from last April. Hamilton, growing ever more perplexed, insisted Tuesday that his trouble is not emanating from pressure to live up to his $125 million contract.

To his credit, he has not gone all grouchy-pants. As he explained, no matter how he's playing, he will smile and try to be a good leader. Because if he turns ugly and acts "like a butt", that does nobody any good. True.

Pujols, meantime, is battling chronic plantar fasciitis. Right now, that's more painful than his .245 average.

Mike Trout? No, he doesn't look like the same player as last summer so far, but give the kid a break. Because the team is losing and the big boppers aren't bopping, he's carrying a lot on his shoulders. And he's still just 21.

As things deteriorate, Trout isn't alone in approaching certain at-bats with the corrosive mindset of, "I've got to get a hit right here."

"That's exactly what it is," Trout said. "We talked about that last week."

Yes, the Angels have had team meetings. They have promised themselves to laugh more. They have told themselves to have more fun and things will flow.

They have taken long, thoughtful journeys into the night searching for their identity, including a 6-hour, 32-minute odyssey in Oakland. They played the Athletics until 1:41 a.m. PST and still emerged on the other side in tatters.

Blood on the tracks. Bodies surely will be cast overboard if things lurch ahead unchanged.

"It's tough to sit back and watch," says Weaver, who likely is still a couple of weeks away. "I told myself to try and stay positive and be the biggest cheerleader on the bench."

But it is Wilson alone among these Angels who continues to "smell 100 percent handsome." And that's only because those goofy television spots featuring him and Hamilton in a shampoo advertisement continue to pop up.

"It's not fun playing catch up," Weaver says. "But it looks like we're in that spot."

Again. Einstein be damned.

 
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